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How Architectural and Interior Design Evoke Reactions

8 Apr 2021

Architectural and Interior Design Evoke Reactions

Architects and interior designers do what they do with a number of goals in mind. First and foremost is function. Buildings serve the purpose of housing human activity. Therefore, the first responsibility of any designer is to make the space functional. Beyond that, architects and interior designers often use their designs to evoke reactions.

Some reactions are meant to be subconscious and emotional. Other reactions might be elicited to control the flow of traffic, encourage people to use space in a specific way, or something of that nature. The key is understanding how people react to what they see in front of them. If you understand their reactions, you can design rooms – or even entire buildings – that encourage people to behave in a certain way.

A Theme Park Example

A grandiose example of architecture and design evoking a specific reaction can be found at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom outside of Orlando, FL. One section of the Animal Kingdom Park is devoted to the film Avatar. The space depicts the fictional planet known as Pandora, a planet that boasts gravity-defying floating mountains.

Disney’s architects and designers managed to re-create those floating mountains in Orlando. Though really an optical illusion, they are truly a sight to behold. Peel back the layers of sculpted concrete that make up the mountains’ facade and you find a framework of steel girders and support beams.

You can’t see the floating mountains and not be drawn into the Avatar story. That is the whole point. The architecture is specifically designed to activate your imagination. It is designed to get you to imagine that you are actually on Pandora, experiencing what the films’ main characters experienced.

It turns out that all of the architecture at Walt Disney World is designed with that same intent in mind. The architects and designers behind it all do what they do to draw guests into the story. And for the record, they do it quite well.

Evoking Reactions at Home

The theme park example is admittedly extreme. Very few architects will ever have an opportunity to work on such projects. More down to earth are the homes we all live in. Architects collaborate with interior designers to create residential spaces their clients will love.

Can certain reactions be evoked in a home? Absolutely. For example, an architect may want to evoke the perception of extra height and space in a home’s great room, with the goal of making that room the preferred space for entertaining. In such a case, the architect has multiple tools at his disposal.

Creating the Illusion of Height

An architect can create an illusion of height which, in turn, makes the space feel larger and more welcome. There are lots of ways to do this. For starters, floor-to-ceiling windows make a room look much bigger than it really is. Architects can also employ taller doorways, transoms, mirrors, and strategically placed shelves to enhance the perception.

Interior designers come along and enhance the illusion of height with things like monochrome paint schemes and furniture that sits lower to the floor. Even the right choice draperies can make a room look bigger than it really is.

Encouraging Energy Efficiency

There are times when an architect wants to encourage a client to be more energy efficient. This can be accomplished through something known as passive design. What is passive design? It is a way of designing a structure to take advantage of nature and the environment for the purposes of reducing dependence on mechanical heating and cooling.

An architect may want to encourage a homeowner to use mechanical air-conditioning less frequently during the summer. In order to do that, he would design the home with a strategic lot placement and what appear to be decorative overhangs above most of the windows. The design is intended to block direct sunlight during the summer months – when the sun is high and overhead – but to welcome it during the winter months.

Without even knowing it, passive design offers the homeowner the opportunity to save energy by running the air-conditioning less frequently. And in the winter months, the furnace has to be run less frequently as well. Energy is saved on both sides of the seasonal coin.

Designing Commercial Properties

Architects and interior designers specialising in commercial properties have their own tools for evoking certain reactions. For example, consider the simple speed bump. It’s true that speed bumps are not architectural elements in the same league as walls and roofs. Yet they are architectural elements, nonetheless.

A well-designed speed bump is not going to do any harm to vehicles passing over it. But there is little doubt that it will cause people to slow down. It is just naturally uncomfortable to ride over speed bumps. We are all afraid that doing so at too high a speed is going to damage our cars. So we slow down.

Inside commercial buildings, architects and designers are faced with a long list of tasks including traffic flow and ensuring safe egress in an emergency. Traffic flow is managed by the placement of corridors, staircases, elevators, etc. Inside individual rooms, traffic flow is managed through the placement of furniture and fixtures.

Design for Safety and Aesthetics

Commercial architectural design is a bit more demanding in that architects and designers are much more concerned about safety. Aesthetics are still important, but safety tends to be the number one priority. Thus, buildings are designed to not only be safe themselves, but also encourage occupants to behave in safer ways.

Fire exits are an excellent example. They are placed strategically throughout commercial buildings so that occupants never have to travel more than a certain distance to escape. Most jurisdictions codify what that distance should be. In addition, commercial spaces must be equipped with signage to help occupants quickly find fire escapes.

When all is said and done, function is but one aspect of architectural and interior design. Purposely evoking certain reactions from people is another important part of what goes into the design equation. Most of us never realise we are being encouraged to behave in a certain way. But we are. The influences are all around us.

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